Meltdowns blog by Paddy-Joe
Unfortunately meltdowns and outbursts are something that nearly everybody with autism will experience; things such as sensory overload and not recognising your own emotions can be huge contributing factors to this. Some people with autism don’t have outbursts or meltdowns, they just revert in to themselves. This particular blog post won’t be of any great help to them – it is more for people like myself, who do tend to have outbursts and get angry. I suppose I really just wanted to give you my perspective on this, and a few tips, both for people with autism and their parents.
Often it can look as if people with autism have incredibly short tempers, but for the majority this isn’t true. The things that get autistic people angry quite often aren’t the same as the things that get neuro-typical people angry. For example, if you say something to them that somebody else might find insulting, they might not care because of their tendency to tell the truth, however offensive it may be. But if you constantly make a noise that gets on their nerves, or insist on repeating yourself unnecessarily, you may well find yourself getting shouted at and insulted, before you have even had chance to register that you have done something wrong. This has certainly been the case over the years with me. The things that wound me up might not even be noticeable to a lot of people, but for me they provoke a lot of anger. Imagine that rather than the majority of people being neuro-typical, they were autistic – so everybody you talk to in your everyday life is going to be autistic – they are going to communicate with you the same way autistic people do. However much you get on with certain autistic people the likelihood is you would not wish to spend all day, every day, with only autistic people. Every time you go out you would only meet autistic people. Now I think that even if you were absurdly patient, this would still drive you mad. It works the same for autistic people, except that everybody they have to deal with is neuro-typical. Their behaviour is so irritating to autistic people because it is so different from the way we behave. It is not even a case of having a short temper – it is just that the sheer amount of stuff that neuro-typcal people do to annoy autistic people can build up over a period of time, and end up in meltdowns or outbursts.
The best way of dealing with this is probably the simplest way – just talk about it with each other – and try to express what the other person does that irritates you. If you know there is a certain behaviour of yours that provokes another person to anger, just try to stop
doing it. I mean, whatever it is, is it really worth falling out over? Of course the usual things about recognising your emotions and learning to deal with them appropriately apply for the autistic individual – you can’t just expect other people to fit in around your behaviour – but it would be nice if they tried to minimise the amount that they irritate you. It is not fair for either party to expect the other to completely change their behaviour without altering their own. If two or more people are going to live or work together then there has to be some kind of comprise with certain things. If you know something you do is winding up your autistic child/sibling, and it’s not something you genuinely have to do, then why keep doing it? I mean, you’re just picking a fight. What I have found with my Mum over the years is that her behaviour might be bad, but my reaction to it is just as bad or worse. When you have a meltdown you lose all sense of scale though, and that’s where the shouting, insults or hitting comes in. So I do understand if you think the behaviour of yours, which sets off the meltdown, is not that bad, but do try to remember that autistic people have a different sense of scale to you.
Meltdowns due to emotional or sensory overload are another common thing among autistic people. If you are autistic and your senses are heightened and you are in a very busy, noisy place, it doesn’t exactly take a genius to work out that this might be more than a little bit stressful for you. Often this will lead to some sort of outburst that may involve shouting, name-calling or even physical violence – none of this done with any negative intent – but ultimately the consequences of this behaviour are the same, whether there is intent or not. Those consequences being that both parties are upset and the event (this may even be something like going to the shops) is ruined and time wasted.
For parents, obviously the first thing to do is to look at what situations your children are going to be in, and how long they are going to be there for – plan and talk to them beforehand about how they might feel and how they might cope with this. Be guided by them sometimes – if they think they will be ok and you keep going on at them telling them things might be bad and they might get upset, you might make things worse. Keep an eye on them during the event – it might even be something as simple as a trip to a supermarket or going on a bus – try and bear in mind while you’re there that even if things aren’t noisy or bright to you, they may be overwhelming for your child, so don’t judge it on how you perceive the situation, judge it on how your child has reacted to previous situations. And for the autistic individuals again – and this will keep cropping up because it’s very, very important – work at recognising your own emotions. Before you try to learn how to deal with them, just learn to pick up on how it is you are feeling. That in itself can have a massive impact on situations. It is not about changing who you are, it is just about trying to make life a bit easier for yourself and the people around you. Recognising what you feel and why, isn’t the same as changing how something makes you feel. Also, don’t be embarrassed to admit if you are finding something difficult. It is much better to admit you are feeling uncomfortable in a situation and leave, than try to tough it out and end up having a meltdown. It’s better to admit you need help with something and trust the people trying to help you, than to let your pride stop you from enjoying things.
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